Weight Loss

Weight Watchers diet review: Is it effective?

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Weight Watchers is a diet program with millions of members in over 30 countries worldwide.

Jean Nidetch founded WW in Brooklyn in 1963. Nidetch and a group of friends in Queens, NY, started meeting once a week to talk about how to lose weight.

Today, Weight Watchers is an international company and the largest commercial weight loss program in the United States (U.S.). Recently, Weight Watchers changed its name to WW.

Approved by many physicians, it is available in various settings, from the local community to the workplace and online.

The program includes regular meetings, self-help learning sessions, group support, and a points system.

WW states that it encourages dieters to aim for the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended body mass index (BMI) range of 18.5-25.

This article looks into the pros and cons of the Weight Watchers diet and its effectiveness and answers some frequently asked questions.

Weight Watchers is a community-based weight loss program that uses a personalized points system, PersonalPoints, to help people lose weight and adopt healthy eating and lifestyle habits. WW plans are personalized according to a person’s initial assessment and a BMI calculation to estimate their body fat.

WW aims to help people lose weight by creating an energy deficit, which it claims can result in up to 2 pounds (lb) of weight loss a week. It does not restrict the types of foods a person can eat, but they must adhere to daily or weekly points “budgets” to lose weight.

Before signing up for Weight Watchers, a person should consider the following pros and cons.

Anyone can join WW. It is suitable for people wanting to lose weight, maintain weight, and explore ways to lead a healthy lifestyle.

A person can take a quiz on the WW website to understand which membership is best for them.

Weight Watchers is a well-researched weight loss program that randomized controlled trials consider effective. It focuses on portion control, food choices, and gradual weight loss and states that members can expect to lose 1–2 lb a week.

Most research pre-dates the introduction of the PersonalPoints program, and more research is needed to determine how effective the PersonalPoints program is for weight loss. Existing studies show positive results for those following Weight Watchers programs.

For instance, a 2015 systematic review writes that people following Weight Watchers for 12 months lost 2.6% more weight than those losing weight by other methods, such as education and counseling. The authors stated they found consistent evidence that supported the long-term efficacy of Weight Watchers.

Research also suggests that joining Weight Watchers is more effective than advice and self-help materials for weight loss in people with overweight or obesity. This 2017 study included 1,200 adults with obesity, and the authors found that study participants could maintain around 67% of their initial weight loss over 2 years.

How consistent a person is with the WW diet plan can also influence how effective WW is for weight loss. For instance, a 2020 study found that those with greater attendance at Weight Watchers for the first 12 weeks showed a greater weight loss at 24 months.

Weight Watchers uses various tools to help people lose weight, including a personalized points system, community-based support networks, and coaching.

Community

Community is an important aspect of the Weight Watchers diet programs, and members can access a support network with other people working to lose weight. The company says this is essential for both short-term and long-term weight loss success.

The support system provides ongoing positive reinforcement for dieters, which can make their weight loss journey less stressful.

Weight Watchers members attend regular meetings, learn about nutrition and exercise, and monitor their weight loss progress.

Anyone can join Weight Watchers as long as they are at least 5 lb, or 2.3 kilograms (kg), over the minimum weight for their height.

People who cannot attend meetings in person can access meetings online.

Coaching

Apart from group meetings, Weight Watchers offers one-on-one coaching and a personalized action plan. A personal coach can help individuals make plans that suit their lifestyle and routine.

Members can communicate with their coach 24/7 on the WW app and website.

PersonalPoints

Weight Watchers dieters are not restricted to specific foods or activities. Instead, they use a points system to monitor what they eat daily. This helps people stay accountable for their weight loss activities each day. Members can record smart points on their mobile devices.

Weight Watchers plans use PersonalPoints. These include a daily SmartPoints budget and a range of ZeroPoint foods and drinks, which do not count toward a person’s budget.

SmartPoints refer to a food’s nutritional content. WW assigns a SmartPoint number to each food based on its calorie, saturated fat, sugar, and protein content. The types of ZeroPoint foods and drinks will change depending on a person’s plan.

SmartPoints will be higher for foods high in sugar and saturated fat and lower for those high in fiber, protein, and unsaturated fat.

Foods that WW assigns higher SmartPoints to include:

  • sugary cereal
  • fatty meat
  • cheese
  • chips
  • high-fat dairy

Foods with lower SmartPoints values include:

  • lean meat
  • oats
  • avocado
  • pretzels
  • low- and no-fat dairy

Eating lower-point foods means a person can eat more in a day before hitting their daily budget.

People will aim to achieve their goals within a certain range of points, depending on how much weight they want to lose.

However, there are some extra weekly SmartPoints points a person can use as a buffer, and members can also save up to 4 SmartPoints to roll over into their weekly SmartPoints budget. This aims to keep the plan flexible and achievable.

This points system aims to encourage members to change their dietary habits and eat more fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, and less fatty, sugary food. It also encourages people away from thinking of certain foods as ‘bad.’

Plans with higher SmartPoint budgets will have the fewest ZeroPoint foods, and plans with smaller SmartPoint budgets will allow for more ZeroPoint foods.

Maintenance

After an initial weight loss period, members can reach their target weight. At this point, they enter a maintenance period, and their daily PersonalPoints budget will increase.

WW recommends a person weighs themselves once a week (or once a month as a minimum) while in the maintenance period.

A person can modify their daily PersonalPoints throughout the maintenance period.

As a guide, WW recommends the following adjustments for weight loss and gain in the maintenance period:

  • 1 lb weight loss: Add 3 points to the daily budget.
  • 1 lb weight gain: Subtract 3 points from the daily budget.
  • Stable weight: Do not change the PersonalPlans budget.

WW states that if a person’s weight remains stable for 4 weeks, they have likely found the right PersonalPoints budget for them.

Users can set an “intervention weight,” which WW says is typically 3–5 lb above their target weight, which will signal when a person has drifted from their target weight and should focus on weight loss rather than maintenance.

A person can contact a coach if they need help moving from maintenance back to weight loss via the WW app or website.

To join Weight Watchers, a person must first take a personal assessment, which will look into their weight loss goals, the motivation behind their weight loss goals, their activity levels, and what may hold them back from losing weight.

This assessment recommends where a person could improve to aid their weight loss goals.

With the assessment complete, a person can choose between three plans:

  • Digital: This plan includes personalized nutrition plans, food and activity trackers, 12,000 recipes, workout recommendations, 24/7 Live Coaching, and tools to help people improve their sleep. A person will get weekly progress reports. WW recommends this plan for people who want a self-guided WW experience. It costs $10 a month.
  • Unlimited Workshops + Digital: This plan offers members the Digital plan features, plus thousands of in-person and virtual Workshops with WW coaches and members, accessible throughout the day, 7 days a week. WW recommends this plan for people who prefer face-to-face support and accountability. The cost of this plan will vary depending on a person’s location, with some locations starting at $10 a month.
  • 1-on-1 Coaching + Digital: This plan offers the Digital plan features and access to private, 1-on-1 coaching along with 24/7 Live Coaching. WW recommends this plan for people who want a high level of support and accountability. It costs $11.08 a week, or $59.95 a month, and a person can choose a 3- or 6-month plan.

Below are the top frequently asked questions about Weight Watchers.

How much weight can you lose on Weight Watchers?

According to the company website, members can expect to lose 1–2 lb per week.

A person’s success with Weight Watchers can vary depending on how closely they follow their plan, how often they attend WW meetings, and whether they stick to their plan during the maintenance period after reaching their weight loss goal.

A person should always consult a doctor or nutrition expert before starting a new diet, including Weight Watchers.

What do experts say about Weight Watchers?

Experts have recommended Weight Watchers as an effective tool for weight loss.

In a 2017 study funded by WW, people with type 2 diabetes experienced less diabetes-related emotional stress and greater weight-related quality of life after following a Weight Watchers program for 1 year.

What do studies say about Weight Watchers?

Studies are generally positive regarding Weight Watchers and its effectiveness, but there is limited research on the new PersonalPoints plan.

A 2020 study shows that people who regularly attended in the first 12 weeks of their WW plan showed a more significant weight loss by 24 months.

Additionally, scientists have found that in people with prediabetes, Weight Watchers is more beneficial than the type 2 diabetes prevention program developed by the National Diabetes Education Program.

It is important to note that Weight Watchers has funded much of the research on its weight loss programs, meaning there is a potential for bias in study results.

However, 2021 research showed that low mental health or quality of life can be a barrier for some people, making them less likely to attend meetings, engage with resources, and succeed with a Weight Watchers plan.

The authors suggest that future research should identify ways to support people with mental health problems to enhance their engagement with a weight loss program.

Weight Watchers, now called WW, is a popular weight loss program with a global reach. The program uses a points system to track the food and drink a person consumes over a day. This system, which scores more nutritious food lower than foods high in saturated fat and sugar, aims to encourage people to eat a balanced diet of healthy food and drink.

Research is generally positive about the effects of the WW program, and scientists have found people with prediabetes and obesity can successfully lose weight with WW.

A person should talk with a doctor before trying a new diet to ensure it is safe.

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